I am staying in a (very good) hotel in Nashville, TN and in the next door room there is a dog. Not a huge one, I guess from the soprano bark, but a loud enough one to induce IBH (increased blogging behaviour) in me. This should all settle down and revert to normal next week, but the idea that is “dogging” me tonight, as both Dog and I seek sleep and relaxation, is this: in order to enjoy optimal content in a multiple mobile access point world do we alter the content, alter the devices, or alter the user experience.

First, some definition of terms. In the hotel lobby this evening I noticed device proliferation like never before. PC (concierge), laptops, iPad, smartphones, other tablets and PDAs. Clearly all can access the same content via the Web, but not have the same experience of it. I, for example, cannot access the Six Nations Rugby because my screen size is wrong in one source (and where the size is right, the vendor cannot sell me the content because of territorial rights – my credit card is registered in the wrong country). The rights question is one for another day: my issue this evening is how to free content from the device display limitation.

And in thinking through the problem my thoughts go back all the time to the article by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff in Wired (http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/08/ff_webrip/all/1) on the death of the Web and the ascendancy of the Internet. So we might say that these issues will be resolved on the internet by an App which the user downloads. This will interface with his content sources and optimize them for the device which is being used to access them. The appearance and treatment of content therefore becomes a part of the design interface of the internet, and nothing to do with the source publisher, who will “create” in a context that is a lowest common denominator allowing for the widest range of optimization. The Bland leading the Bland, perhaps, and certainly something which becomes more complex as we introduce more images, graphics, video and audio alongside text in increasingly multiple media services. Still, this is the user workflow approach, with the App allowing users to control their access mode.

If this world prevails, some of my publisher friends will run screaming into the street tearing their hair (though few of them have much of that). They want to re-assert the primacy of the Web, because they want to continue to control the customer in every way that they can. Already threatened by Apple, Amazon and Kobo, and only partly disarmed by the hope that Google Editions may prove an ally after all, many publishers see loss of control of the delivered appearance of their products as an ultimate separation from end users. They would want to have editionizing software that ran with the product, allowing you to see it differently according to the device you are using, but, within your licence, always able to ensure that what you were looking at was optimized to the device you were using to read it on. In this way the publisher of origin would be able to charge for the added value of multiple device usage as well as keep control of the licences conferred on end users.

This may not be an enduring problem, since the network will one day resolve it as an access condition. But in the meanwhile there are choices. And as it happens, we have what citizens here call a “bake-off” between the two opposing camps. In the red corner on my right, please meet Flipboard Pages (http://flipboard.com), who will take any page of published media you encounter on Twitter or Facebook, and reconfigure it to read properly on your access device. This is an App, and this is the beginnings of a workflow solution.

And in the Blue corner, on my left, meet newly launched TreeSaver (http://treesaver.net), a JavaScript solution for the publishing community to allow multiple device viewing of the same content in very different device contexts. It adjusts automatically to the context, and the portfolio of exemplars on its website work very impressively. This is the Web solution and represents the ways in which the content creation community will try to fight back. Add this, publishers will say, and it will justify higher prices for subscription or one-off products. Buy from us, the intermediaries will say, and you can have Grandson of Flipboard as standard on all our products and services.

As I say, this may not last forever, but, in every field of content, the next 24 months will see decisive battles on the business models of content marketplaces. Do Apple et al get to restructure the business or not? And if not, do the originating agencies retain control of the appearance as part of the battle to retain a direct connection with the consumer? What did not appear to be real issues six months ago are now front and centre. How can you keep your hair when all around you are losing their heads. And is this issue the Dog that Didn’t Bark in the Night?


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2 Comments so far

  1. Tweets that mention David Worlock | Developing digital strategies for the information marketplace | Supporting the migration of information providers and content players into the networked services world of the future. -- Topsy.com on February 13, 2011 09:25

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by doggydoghouse, David Worlock. David Worlock said: Web v App..Flipboard v TreeSaver : the battle over multiple device access to content http://www.davidworlock.com/2011/02/the-dog-next-door […]

  2. Phil Cotter on February 18, 2011 14:24

    I just wonder if the device manufacturer’s won’t always have the upperhand in this debate. For the simple reason that the majority of individuals want to own things that are sexy, tactile and desirable and whatever happens with content it will struggle to cope with the sheer thrill of owning the latest coolest device.

    Last week on a visit to Liverpool I walked into the Apple store with my 15 year old son. I was struck by the sheer beauty in the design of the products. Handling the Macbook Air created a strong visceral desire to own one, it is such a desirable object.I had to summon all my will power not to part with my hard earned cash there and then.

    So I just wonder whether desirability won’t always win over accessibility and consumer’s will be prepared to trade off some minor frustrations for the sheer thrill of owning a thing of beauty.

    Just in case you think that’s all nonsense some figures;
    Apple sold 10.2m ipads in the last quarter
    It is estimated that they generated sales of $1.8bn from the Apps last year and own 84% of the market.
    The halo affect of the ipad is credited with boosting Mac sales in December by 23% 7 times the growth of the market at large.

    So, you have to buy a cover to make your iphone work properly, and the ipad doesn’t play 90%+ of videos on the internet. Doesn’t seem to have bothered the consumer. Device versus content, no competition.

    The content providers and apps developers face an interesting choice do they develop universal portability or focus on optimising for the market leading devices.

    The device manufacturer’s are already thinking about how they use their market share to extract money from the content providers – Apple (again) with their policy of using their iTunes infrastructure to sell subscriptions for content and taking 30% commission from the conmtent providers.

    Universal accessibility that would be nice, device dependent accessibility that’s reality and may be for a long time to come.